The two sides also confronted a divide over estate taxes.

Obama favors a higher tax than is currently in effect, but one senior Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, said he's "totally dead set" against it. Speaking of fellow GOP lawmakers, he said they harbor more opposition to an increase in the estate tax than to letting taxes on income and investments rise at upper levels.

Also likely to be included in the negotiations are taxes on dividends and capital gains, both of which are scheduled to rise with the new year. Also the alternative minimum tax, which, if left unchanged, could hit an estimated 28 million households for the first time with an average increase of more than $3,000.

In addition, Obama and Democrats want to prevent the expiration of unemployment benefits for about 2 million long-term jobless men and women, and there is widespread sentiment in both parties to shelter doctors from a 27 percent cut in Medicare fees.

The White House has shown increased concern about a possible doubling of milk prices if a farm bill is not passed in the next few days, although it is not clear whether that issue, too, might be included in the talks.

One Republican who was briefed on the White House meeting said Boehner made it clear he would leave in place spending cuts scheduled to take effect unless alternative savings were included in any compromise to offset them. If he prevails, that would defer politically difficult decisions on curtailing government benefit programs like Medicare until 2013.

Success was far from guaranteed in an atmosphere of political mistrust â¿¿ even on a slimmed-down deal that postponed hard decisions about spending cuts into 2013 â¿¿ in a Capitol where lawmakers grumbled about the likelihood of spending the new year holiday working.

In a brief appearance in the White House briefing room, Obama referred to "dysfunction in Washington," and said the American public is "not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. Not right now."

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